In their own words

Courtesy of Sandy Gibson/Library of Congress

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart was one of the more than 200 musicians interviewed in the 1980s by record label executive Joe Smith. Smith donated the interviews to the Library of Congress in June.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

There’s a lot to see and do in Washington, D.C.; the catch, of course, is that you have to actually be in Washington to see and do those things.

Not so, however, for a new exhibit at the Library of Congress. Anyone in the country or the world can listen in to a series of interviews by former record label executive Joe Smith with some of the biggest names in music of the 20th century. Most of the 225 archived interviews were done in the mid to late 1980s. Because they were never intended for widespread media distribution, many of the talks are quite candid.

Smith spent more than 40 years in the industry and knew the questions to ask. In 1988, he published excerpts from his interviews in the book Off the Record. In June, Smith donated his collection of recordings to the Library of Congress and the first 25 can now be heard free online.

The first batch includes interviews with Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Bo Diddley and Linda Rondstadt, among others. More recordings in the Smith collection will be added to the site over time.

Smith recorded his subjects joking, eating, drinking and discussing their lives, careers and contemporaries. Some highlights:

Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ outlaw image: “I think there was a lot of time wasted with this band with all that image stuff. And eventually, of course, I think it contributed to Brian (Jones) cracking up completely and to a certain extent Keith (Richards) becoming a junkie.”

Yoko Ono on the Beatles’ split: “For John, it was a divorce. I think he was feeling very good about it, as if a big weight was off him.”

Tony Bennett on Bing Crosby: “He actually had us all hypnotized for many years. No one could get past him. It must have been frustrating for the singers of the day. ... He was like 15 Beatles.”

Bo Diddley on Elvis: “Elvis Presley copied me and Jackie Wilson – he combined the two acts together. At the time, he had a good thing going. I thank God that he did. I take my hat off to him. The name of the game is make money, and that’s what he did. He was a lucky man. I haven’t seen anybody else come behind him and do that same thing except Michael Jackson and Prince. I still don’t think they’ve stepped in Elvis’ shoes.”

Others who sat down with Smith include Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Little Richard, George Harrison, Elton John, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Sting, Joan Baez, James Taylor, Dick Clark, Tina Turner, Tom Jones, Quincy Jones, David Geffen, Mickey Hart and Harry Belafonte.

Coming soon will be Smith’s own reflective interview, in which he candidly talks about the famous people in his life, including a titillating accusation against him and his business partner, Frank Sinatra.

The recordings in the Joe Smith Collection are housed in the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va., an environmentally controlled facility. The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division’s collections include nearly 3 million sound recordings.

ted@durangoherald.com

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